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Ecclesiastes 7:1-6

Context
Life is Brief and Death is Certain!

7:1 A good reputation 1  is better 2  than precious 3  perfume; 4 

likewise, 5  the day of one’s 6  death 7  is better than the day of one’s birth. 8 

7:2 It is better to go to a funeral 9 

than a feast. 10 

For death 11  is the destiny 12  of every person, 13 

and the living should 14  take this 15  to heart.

7:3 Sorrow 16  is better than laughter,

because sober reflection 17  is good for the heart. 18 

7:4 The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning,

but the heart of fools is in the house of merrymaking. 19 

Frivolous Living Versus Wisdom

7:5 It is better for a person to receive 20  a rebuke from those who are wise 21 

than to listen to the song 22  of fools.

7:6 For like the crackling of quick-burning thorns 23  under a cooking pot,

so is the laughter of the fool.

This kind of folly 24  also is useless. 25 

1 tn Heb “name.” The Hebrew term שֵׁם (shem, “name”) is used metonymically for a person’s reputation (e.g., Prov 22:1; Deut 22:14, 19; Neh 6:13; also Gen 6:4; 12:2; 2 Sam 7:9; 8:13; 23:18, 22; 1 Chr 5:24; 12:31; 2 Chr 26:15; Neh 9:10; Isa 63:12, 14; Jer 32:20; Ezek 16:14; Dan 9:15); cf. HALOT 1549 s.v. שֵׁם D.2; BDB 1028 s.v. שֵׁם 2.b.

2 tn The comparative term טוֹב (tov, “better”) is repeated throughout 7:1-12. It introduces a series of “Better-than sayings,” particularly in 7:1-6 in which every poetic unit is introduced by טוֹב.

3 tn Heb “good.” The repetition of טוֹב (tov, “good”) forms an inclusion (a structural device that rounds off the unit), while the two internal terms מִשֶּׁמֶןשֵׁם (shem mishemen, “name …ointment”) create a paronomastic wordplay (see the note on the word “perfume”). The combination of these two sets of literary devices creates an AB:B'A' chiasm: מִשֶּׁמֶן טוֹב // שֵׁם טוֹב (tov shem // mishemen tov, e.g., “good name”// “ointment good”).

4 tn Or “oil”; or “ointment.” The term שֶׁמֶן (shemen) refers to fragrant “perfume; cologne; ointment” (Amos 6:6; Eccl 10:1; Song 1:2 [1:3 HT]; 4:10); see HALOT 1568 s.v. שֶׁמֶן A.2.c. Bodily oils were expensive (1 Kgs 17:12; 2 Kgs 2:4). Possession of oils and perfumes was a sign of prosperity (Deut 32:8; 33:24; Job 29:6; Prov 21:17; Ezek 16:13, 20). Wearing colognes and oils was associated with joy (Ps 45:8; Eccl 9:8; Isa 61:3) because they were worn on festive occasions (Prov 27:9). The similar sounding terms “name” (שֵׁם, shem) and “perfume” (שֶׁמֶן) create a wordplay (paronomasia). See W. G. E. Watson, Classical Hebrew Poetry (JSOTSup), 242–43; J. J. Glück, “Paronomasia in Biblical Literature,” Semitics 1 (1970): 50–78; A. Guillaume, “Paronomasia in the Old Testament.” JSS 9 (1964): 282–90; J. M. Sasson, “Wordplay in the OT,” IDBSup 968-70.

5 tn The vav prefixed to the form וְיוֹם (vÿyom) functions in a comparative sense, e.g., Job 5:7; 12:11; 16:21; Prov 25:25 (see R. J. Williams, Hebrew Syntax, 71, §437).

6 tn The word “one’s” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for clarity.

7 tn The article prefixed to הַמָּוֶת (hammavet, “death”) probably functions in an indefinite possessive sense or in a generic sense: “one’s death,” e.g., Gen 44:2 (see R. J. Williams, Hebrew Syntax, 19, §86, §92).

8 sn There are two ways to understand this proverb: (1) Happy times (characterized by celebration and “fragrant perfume”) teach us less than hard times (“the day of one’s death”) which can bring about moral improvement (“a good reputation”). (2) It is better to come to the end of one’s life (“day of one’s death”) with a good reputation (“a good name”) than to merely be starting life (“day of one’s birth”) in an auspicious manner in joy and wealth (“fine perfume”). Folly and wickedness could foil a good beginning so that a person ends life as a fool. For example, Solomon began as the wisest man who ever lived, only to end life as one of history’s greatest fools.

9 tn Heb “house of mourning.” The phrase refers to a funeral where the deceased is mourned.

10 tn Heb “house of drinking”; or “house of feasting.” The Hebrew noun מִשְׁתֶּה (mishteh) can denote (1) “feast; banquet,” occasion for drinking-bouts (1 Sam 25:36; Isa 5:12; Jer 51:39; Job 1:5; Esth 2:18; 5:14; 8:17; 9:19) or (2) “drink” (exilic/postexilic – Ezra 3:7; Dan 1:5, 8, 16); see HALOT 653 s.v. מִשְׁתֶּה 4; BDB 1059 s.v. שָׁתַה.

sn Qoheleth recommended that people soberly reflect on the brevity of life and the reality of death (It is better to go to a house of mourning) than to waste one’s life in the foolish pursuit of pleasure (than to go to a house of banqueting). Sober reflection on the brevity of life and reality of death has more moral benefit than frivolous levity.

11 tn Heb “it”; the referent (“death”) has been specified in the translation for clarity.

12 tn Heb “the end.” The noun סוֹף (sof) literally means “end; conclusion” (HALOT 747 s.v. סוֹף 1; BDB 693 s.v. סוֹף). It is used in this context in reference to death, as the preceding phrase “house of mourning” (i.e., funeral) suggests.

13 tn Heb “all men” or “every man.”

14 tn The imperfect tense verb יִתֵּן, yitten (from נָתָן, natan, “to give”) functions in a modal sense, denoting obligation, that is, the subject’s obligatory or necessary conduct: “should” or “ought to” (see R. J. Williams, Hebrew Syntax, 31-32, §172; IBHS 508-9 §31.4g).

15 tn The word “this” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for smoothness.

16 tn NEB suggests “grief”; NJPS, “vexation.”

17 tn Heb “in sadness of face there is good for the heart.”

18 tn Or possibly “Though the face is sad, the heart may be glad.”

19 sn The expression the house of merrymaking refers to a banquet where those who attend engage in self-indulgent feasting and riotous drinking.

20 tn Heb “hear.”

21 tn Heb “rebuke of the wise,” a subjective genitive (“the wise” administer the rebuke).

22 tn Or “praise.” The antithetical parallelism between “rebuke” (גַּעֲרַת, gaarat) and “song” (שִׁיר, shir) suggests that the latter is figurative (metonymy of association) for praise/flattery which is “music” to the ears: “praise of fools” (NEB, NJPS) and “flattery of fools” (Douay). However, the collocation of “song” (שִׁיר) in 7:5 with “laughter” (שְׂחֹק, sÿkhoq) in 7:6 suggests simply frivolous merrymaking: “song of fools” (KJV, NASB, NIV, ASV, RSV, NRSV).

23 tn The term “thorns” (הַסִּירִים, hassirim) refers to twigs from wild thorn bushes which were used as fuel for quick heat, but burn out quickly before a cooking pot can be properly heated (e.g., Pss 58:9; 118:12).

24 tn The word “kind of folly” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for clarity.

25 tn It is difficult to determine whether the Hebrew term הֶבֶל (hevel) means “fleeting” or “useless” in this context. The imagery of quick-burning thorns under a cooking pot is ambiguous and can be understood in more than one way: (1) It is useless to try to heat a cooking pot by burning thorns because they burn out before the pot can be properly heated; (2) the heat produced by quick-burning thorns is fleeting – it produces quick heat, but lasts only for a moment. Likewise, the “laughter of a fool” can be taken in both ways: (1) In comparison to the sober reflection of the wise, the laughter of fools is morally useless: the burning of thorns, like the laughter of fools, makes a lot of noise but accomplishes nothing; (2) the laughter of fools is fleeting due to the brevity of life and certainty of death. Perhaps this is an example of intentional ambiguity.



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